How to Discourage Kids’ Bad Phone Habits

Kids using tech inappropriately isn’t just frustrating; it’s downright dangerous which is why parents need to learn how to discourage kids’ bad phone habits.

Psychologists have linked the rise of the smartphone to rising teen suicides.

Between 2010 and 2015—when smartphones became common—teen suicide attempts increased 23%.

Worse, the proportion who committed suicide rose 31%.

As a mom, you have good reason to impose consequences when your kids misuse tech.

You’re not being a “control freak”; you’re protecting them from a harm they may not yet understand.

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What are the best ways to do that?

Try these eight tips as you learn how to discourage kids’ bad phone habits:

Position a Phone as a Privilege

Like a car, a phone is a privilege. Your kids first phone should be earned through mature behavior, not birthdays.

No two kids mature quite the same way. Look for signs that your kid is ready, such as:

  • Responsible use of other electronics
  • Good grades in school
  • A lack of legal issues
  • Robust real-world relationships
  • Strong in-person communication skills

If you don’t see one or more of those things, feel free to hold off.

During an interview with The Mirror, Bill Gates revealed he didn’t let his children have cell phones until they were 14 years old.

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Set Ground Rules

To impose consequences, you first need to establish rules.

When can and can’t your children use their phones?

What sites are prohibited?

Who shouldn’t they communicate with?

With each rule, talk through the “why” together.

For example, what’s so bad about texting at the dinner table?

You might explain that it’s family time, and real-world relationships matter more than answering a friend’s message.

The best time to discuss these rules is before you buy their phone. If your kids won’t agree to them, then perhaps it’s best to hold off.

Issue a Warning First

Parenting experts suggest warnings should always precede consequences.

Warning your kids gives them a chance to correct their behavior on their own.

Always be direct about the problem and what will happen if your warning is ignored.

Say your child is supposed to be doing homework, but you catch them scrolling through Facebook.

You might say, “If you keep using social media when you’re supposed to be reading, I’m going to take your phone away for the rest of the day.”

If your kid continues to use their phone, you need to follow through with the consequence immediately. Don’t let your child get the idea that consequences won’t be enforced.

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Be Consistent

Consequences only work if they’re imposed consistently.

In other words, you have to mete out the same punishment each and every time your child breaks a given rule.

If you have multiple kids, realize that consistency means you must every violator the same way.

Don’t leave any room for accusations of unfairness.

When kids think the rules aren’t applied equally, they tend not to respect the rules.

Don’t Delay

Not only should consequences be consistent, but they should also be time-sensitive.

Otherwise, kids may feel singled out or suspect they’re actually being punished for something else.

If your child breaks a phone rule, address it immediately.

Make sure they know what they did wrong, and impose the consequence then and there.

If, for some reason, you can’t impose a consequence immediately, let your child know they misbehaved and that you’ll discuss their punishment later.

Giving them some time to sweat is a punishment in and of itself.

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Have A Conversation

Every consequence should be accompanied by a conversation.

In it, reinforce the “why” behind the rule.

Just as importantly, give your child a chance to ask questions.

Not only does this ensure they understand your reasoning, but it also shows that you impose consequences because you care.

Whenever possible, have your spouse join the conversation.

Make sure he or she backs you up.

If your husband or wife questions a rule or your application of it, talk about it later in private.

Kids should see a united front when it comes to topics like safe tech usage.

Monitor Their Usage

If your child is ready for a phone, you probably aren’t with them all day.

You should trust them enough, however, to expect an honest answer when you ask how and when they use their phone.

Dig into the how, when, where, and why.

Ask questions like:

  • Do you use your phone at school? If so, do you take it out only at lunch or between classes?
  • What are your favorite websites? What do you like about them?
  • Who are your friends online? Do you also know these people in person?
  • How much time do you spend online each day?
  • How frequently do you text? Who do you text most often?

Don’t punish your child simply for revealing some detail you don’t like.

Otherwise, they may not be honest with you about their phone usage in the future. Instead, have a conversation, and if necessary, set a new rule.

What if you suspect your child isn’t telling you the truth?

It might be time to implement a tracking system.

While some moms love this option, others feel guilty “spying” on their children.

Before using these controls, it’s a good idea to have an open dialogue with your child so they understand why you’re monitoring their screen time.

Reward Good Behavior

Every child is different.

Some kids respond better to punishments, while others learn primarily through positive reinforcement.

You know your kid best.

But unless one method doesn’t seem to work whatsoever, use both rewards and punishments to encourage healthy phone habits in your child.

Like punishments, base rewards around the rules you discussed earlier.

For example, you could reward your child with dessert when they turn their phone in before dinnertime without you having to ask.

Just make sure you’re not rewarding good behavior with additional tech time.

There’s no one-size-fits-all system for encouraging kids to use phones safely.

With that said, you’ve made it this far without a “mom” playbook. Surely, helping your kids use tech safely is within your wheelhouse. Someday, they might even thank you for it.

Our readers found these resources useful; How to set up your iPhone for a Child, Must have Numbers in the Mobile Phone for Parents and Teach Your Children to use Technology Productively.

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